Mary Landrieu has confounded Republicans in Louisiana since 1996. Every time the GOP thought they had her on the ropes, Landrieu slipped away with a victory, sending Republicans stumbling back to the drawing board.
One of the ways Landrieu and her team went on offense was by effectively defining the opposition in unflattering terms.
In 1996, Woody Jenkins was branded as extreme. In in the last days of the 2002, Suzie Terrell was painted as a DC Republican who could not be trusted to back up the state’s sugar farmers/interests.
In 2008 John Kennedy, who had just jumped parties the year before, was portrayed as a confused politician in the midst of an identity crisis.
The Kennedy loss had to be the bitterest for the GOP.
Rather than having to blow a ton of money in an intraparty squabble, Kennedy emerged early on as the consensus candidate. The Oxford-educated, scandal-free statewide elected official best known for giving people back money that had been lost in the system through his unclaimed property roadshows.
And to top it off he would be sharing the ballot with John McCain, who was a lock to win Louisiana by a landslide over then-US Senator Barack Obama.
McCain did not disappoint in his state tally, scoring 58.5% with 1,148,275 votes. Kennedy could have lost one out of ten McCain voters and still rode the Arizonan’s coattails into the US Senate.
Instead the state treasurer ran a staggering 13 points behind the top of the GOP ticket.
So where did Landrieu find her McCain voters?
The short answer is everywhere. Landrieu ran more competitively than Obama and managed to win parishes that voted Republican for president.
Washington Parish is a good example. Just north of St. Tammany, McCain had defeated Obama almost two to one, with a margin of over 6,000 ballots yet Landrieu carried the parish by 109 votes.
In St. Bernard Parish, McCain won by over 6,000 votes yet Landrieu won the same parish in excess of 2500 votes.
The drop off was much more pronounced in south Louisiana than in north Louisiana, where the electorate is more partisan and less inclined to split-ticket.
In fact had Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish voted straight ticket in 2008, Kennedy would have turned enough votes to have nosed Landrieu out.
Landrieu’s assertion that Kennedy suffered from political schizophrenia notwithstanding, the Republican senate candidate’s biggest weakness was his lack of constituency. Kennedy had taken an unusual path to statewide office, transitioning almost directly from bureaucrat to state treasurer.
Though he has lived in Madisonville for years, northshore voters never considered him one of them. St. Tammany was more residence than political base for Kennedy, which could explain the 17,000+ vote gap between the presidential nominee and him in the GOP bailiwick.
Though it is early, there are some things the GOP should be mindful of going into 2014.
First, the party should avoid an expensive de facto primary fought out in the November first round by settling on a strong candidate early, which is something the GOP got right in 2008. Though a split field had actually helped in 2002 by denying Landrieu the first round knock-out she was hoping to achieve, that was a different situation as the GOP effort was slow to develop and the leading candidate (Terrell) did not announce until August.
If there is a protracted battle between the competing forces within the Louisiana GOP, Landrieu will be halfway home to a fourth term as bitter feelings amongst Republicans will almost certainly carry over to the December runoff. 2014 is the inverse of 2002.
Secondly, every effort should be made to nationalize the race to keep the Republican vote together. I have no idea why there weren’t McCain-Palin-Kennedy signs and stickers and other ticket media plastered all over the state to help link the state treasurer to the national ticket.
It’s one thing to explain away a vote, but Democrats are going to have a difficult time dancing around ObamaCare’s “growing pains”, which will include financial penalties, insurance premium increases and loss of insurance in some cases.
The stuff on C-SPAN is about to get real for lots of people as they begin to learn and feel what they actually voted for.
Thirdly, the Republican candidate needs to have appeal in Baton Rouge, St. Tammany Parish and Jefferson Parish, which was where the last election was won by Landrieu and where the next election will be won or lost.
Democrats will be on the defensive across the country in 2014 by virtue of having to defend so many senate seats from the 2008 cycle and ObamaCare. Neither task is going to be easy.
If the GOP continues its losing streak against Mary Landrieu, it won’t be so much to her credit but their own fault as the conservative surf will be up next year.